Glucose, insulin and why levels are important to manage. Here's why.

If you've ever paid attention to food labels, you've likely noticed that many ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, end with the suffix "ose." This is because this suffix is one way biochemists label and identify any sugar-laden foods.

Sugars like fructose, sucrose, and dietary glucose are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, while maltose is found in many grains and lactose is found in dairy products, per Harvard Medical School. No matter which name is attached to each form of sugar, all are sweet-tasting carbohydrates that the body eventually converts into energy.

What is glucose?

Blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, is what our body breaks carbohydrates down to during digestion. Once it enters the bloodstream, glucose needs to be transported to and absorbed by our cells and organs in order provide our body and brain with their main source of energy.

That's where insulin comes in. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that's triggered when glucose enters the bloodstream. Abby Langer, a clinical nutritionist, registered dietitian and founder of Abby Langer Nutrition, says it can be helpful to think of insulin as a wagon hitch that glucose attaches itself to, to get where it needs to be and to also help with absorption.

In healthy people, glucose levels naturally increase after eating, but then go back down again as insulin and other hormones kick in to help the body absorb it. "When glucose levels don't decrease, this often indicates an issue with insulin sensitivity or production of insulin," says Langer. Such individuals may have diabetes or prediabetes - conditions associated with high blood sugar, often due to insulin resistance.

Is glucose good or bad for you?

Blood glucose is not only a good thing, but is also essential for maintaining enough energy to thrive and to survive. At the same time, too much of it can become toxic and cause brain fog, fatigue and eventually even serious damage to bodily organs.

While healthy people don't normally have to worry about the consequences of glucose spikes unless they are eating very unhealthy foods too often, people with diabetes have to be especially mindful of their glucose levels. "Chronic high blood glucose levels can damage one’s heart, blood vessels, kidneys, vision and nerves," says Laura Bellows, a registered dietitian and an associate professor in the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University.

Which foods cause high blood sugar?

To prevent glucose levels from staying too high or for longer durations than the body can absorb after eating, it's important to get enough exercise and to be mindful of what you eat. For instance, if you're eating high-carb meals and sugar-laden snacks throughout the day, you're likely not allowing your body enough time to absorb glucose and you may feel more food cravings, brain fog and fatigue as a result.

Managing glucose levels and eating right is especially important for people with diabetes and can even be a matter of life and death. Making healthier food choices can help. "What can make the biggest impact on blood glucose levels is swapping sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or sports drinks for zero-sugar alternatives," says Kristina Cooke, a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes treatment and prevention. "It's also helpful to avoid or limit adding sugar to your foods."

What is unhealthy about Diet Coke? And is regular Coca-Cola actually better for you?

Indeed, foods with added sugars can cause the biggest spikes in blood glucose levels, as can fried and highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta and white bread.

You can still eat such items in moderation, of course, but it's important to balance them with a high fiber foods like broccoli and beans and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, says Bellows. "This will keep blood glucose levels from spiking compared to eating refined sugars and carbs alone."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is glucose? Blood sugar, insulin and what you need to know